What Catholics Believe - Chapter Twenty-Six

The Second Commandment: Reverence God's Name

I may be dating myself, but when I think about the Ten Commandments, what comes to mind is an image of Charlton Heston holding two stone tablets in Cecil B. DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments.

From the story of Exodus, which in Hebrew is called the “Book of Names,” (Hebrew books of the Bible are titled by their opening words: “These are the Names….) we learn about the important role names play in our encounters with God.

In the third chapter, the most important name ever given is introduced…the Divine Name. God tells Moses: “I am who am…This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14).”

God’s name is the name above every other name and deserves our utmost honor and praise.

God’s self-revelation of his NAME is an invitation to intimacy and a revelation of who God is. When referring to God throughout the Scriptures, we’re given insights into many of His attributes…Mighty One…All Powerful, Lord…etc. But the name “IAM WHO AM” tells us who God is in essence. Our God is a God of the here and now! This revelation to Moses at the burning bush is done out of gratuitous love, inviting all into a relationship where we can “call on His Name!”

Respect for God’s name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it elicits. The sense of the sacred is an integral part of the virtue of religion. The Second Commandment prescribes respect for the Lord's name and therefore should govern our use of speech in sacred matters. Hopefully, it keeps us from reducing His name to something that we control or manipulate.

In today’s culture, when we speak about the Second Commandment, it’s usually in the context of our failure to observe it. Blaspheming (saying words of hatred, defiance, or harshness in our hearts or out loud against God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and even the saints) or using profanity or vulgar language can create a habitual attitude that little by little erodes our relationship with God and, subsequently, our relationship with our neighbor as well.

Unfortunately, the name of God and Jesus is taken lightly in everyday living by many, even those who profess to be Christian. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the fact that many don’t realize that we are involved in a covenantal relationship with God. Their thinking may be that since they haven’t been struck down by a lightning bolt when God’s name is profaned, the sacredness of it is just an ancient superstition, only attributed to the unfortunate people in the Old Testament. But that is not the case. The warning still holds and the final judgment still remains.

Christ teaches that God's presence and His truth must be honored in all speech (ccc 2153). Therefore, we must use discretion when pledging any oath upon his name, even in a civil proceeding such as a court of law. A false oath, the catechism teaches us, “calls on God to be witness to a lie” (ccc 2151). Jesus reminded us in His Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely… But I say to you, Do not swear at all.’”

Hopefully, we begin our day, our prayers, and our activities with the Sign of the Cross: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." By doing so, we dedicate the day to the glory of God; call on the Savior's grace which then lets us act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties. When we make the sign of the cross, it reminds us to always observe the Second Commandment… “Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain!”